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by Rob Friesel

BoingBoing post on fMRI and “reading minds” with it.


Even more so than PET scans, fMRI is fast gaining a reputation among molecular neuroscientists as little more than voodoo. As consumers of science, we must be careful with studies like these. The unfortunate truth about fMRI is that many scientists doing this research are basically making it up as they go along. A attended an fMRI-specific seminar series last summer. When she returned, she remarked how excited everyone was about this new technique but that “they’re shaping the experiments to fit the tools and instead of the other way around.” Reading the “New Scientist” articles, I’m afraid we can see echoes of that in there.

According to A, the biggest problem with these studies is that all the fMRI really shows is how much oxygen a given area of the brain is using. The assumption among many of the more naive scientists doing this research is that those areas are lighting up b/c they’re “doing the thinking”. But this is just a poorly informed guess. The increased use of oxygen could mean that said part of the brain is working overtime. I could also mean that that part of the brain is working overtime to suppress some function or behavior. Unfortunately, fMRI doesn’t tell us anything useful there. You still need to get into the grey (and/or white) matter and get readings on what specific neurotransmitters are getting thrown around. Or what’s not getting thrown around.

So, yeah…: Voodoo.

currently playing: Die Warzau “Strike To The Body”

About Rob Friesel

Software engineer by day, science fiction writer by night. Author of The PhantomJS Cookbook and a short story in Please Do Not Remove. View all posts by Rob Friesel →

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